Combining single-cell RNA sequencing and population-based studies reveals hand osteoarthritis-associated chondrocyte subpopulations and pathways

Bone Res. 2023 Nov 2;11(1):58. doi: 10.1038/s41413-023-00292-7.


Hand osteoarthritis is a common heterogeneous joint disorder with unclear molecular mechanisms and no disease-modifying drugs. In this study, we performed single-cell RNA sequencing analysis to compare the cellular composition and subpopulation-specific gene expression between cartilage with macroscopically confirmed osteoarthritis (n = 5) and cartilage without osteoarthritis (n = 5) from the interphalangeal joints of five donors. Of 105 142 cells, we identified 13 subpopulations, including a novel subpopulation with inflammation-modulating potential annotated as inflammatory chondrocytes. Fibrocartilage chondrocytes exhibited extensive alteration of gene expression patterns in osteoarthritic cartilage compared with nonosteoarthritic cartilage. Both inflammatory chondrocytes and fibrocartilage chondrocytes showed a trend toward increased numbers in osteoarthritic cartilage. In these two subpopulations from osteoarthritic cartilage, the ferroptosis pathway was enriched, and expression of iron overload-related genes, e.g., FTH1, was elevated. To verify these findings, we conducted a Mendelian randomization study using UK Biobank and a population-based cross-sectional study using data collected from Xiangya Osteoarthritis Study. Genetic predisposition toward higher expression of FTH1 mRNA significantly increased the risk of hand osteoarthritis (odds ratio = 1.07, 95% confidence interval: 1.02-1.11) among participants (n = 332 668) in UK Biobank. High levels of serum ferritin (encoded by FTH1), a biomarker of body iron overload, were significantly associated with a high prevalence of hand osteoarthritis among participants (n = 1 241) of Xiangya Osteoarthritis Study (P-for-trend = 0.037). In conclusion, our findings indicate that inflammatory and fibrocartilage chondrocytes are key subpopulations and that ferroptosis may be a key pathway in hand osteoarthritis, providing new insights into the pathophysiology and potential therapeutic targets of hand osteoarthritis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cartilage, Articular* / metabolism
  • Chondrocytes / metabolism
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Iron Overload* / metabolism
  • Osteoarthritis* / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA